By S. Friedman
There are many things one can attribute Barack Obama’s winning a second term as president to. One of the things that cannot be considered a factor is the voting of Orthodox Jews. Quite simply, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California, the states with the largest concentration of Orthodox Jews, were firmly in Democratic hands with or without their influence. The importance of voting as a community, regardless of the outcome, is not something that should be mitigated, as even in “losing” efforts the patterns of voting blocs are duly noted.
For the individual voter, he or she can consciously separate from a group and make his or her own calculation for voting. It is that calculating that I think needs severe review in regards to how those principles reflect on the individual, not on how they decide elections.
Reading comments on frum websites reporting news on the election, I noticed that there were a significant minority of commentators who identified themselves as “yeshivish” and voting for Obama on the basis for continuing benefit programs that they enjoy, and that Obama’s administration was the greatest personification of tzedakah the world has ever seen. That sentiment upset me greatly.
Before I get to my own hashkafic views of the above opinion, let me give some practical perspectives from a member of the ultra- Orthodox community. Perhaps those who are not so fortunate to be part of a supportive community, the government taking care of their needs is their best and only option. But as frum Jews, we do best when left to our own devices. Case in point: Hurricane Sandy.
The Achiezer organization in Far Rockaway arranged for evacuations, placements, generators, multiple locations for hot food all day, thousands of articles of clothing to be distributed, cleanup and water extractions, insurance assistance, gemach loans, etc. No stone was left unturned, as every conceivable effort was made with the utmost haste to help out fellow Yidden.
The federal government’s response? A presidential photo-op and the distributing of FEMA applications so that there will indeed be some monetary aid after a prolonged journey through an endless abyss of red tape. This is the way the government operates – paper, less action, and inefficiency all around. Not to mention that when someone contributes $1 to an organization such as Achiezer, 80%-95% gets used in direct aid. The federal government is busy paying pensions and onerous healthcare plans to employees who have no oversight to their work performance. Bikur Cholim, Tomchei Shabbos and other organizations have volunteers who truly care. No retirement package necessary.
Why am I comparing federal aid to frum tzedakah organizations? Because voting for Obama on the basis of maintaining programs is advocating taxing the wealthier more and more. Those “rich” people are the ones who contribute to our chadorim, Bais Yaakovs, yeshivos and chesed organizations so generously. Perhaps there are miserly people who sit on mounds of money all day and look down and scoff at the poor and downtrodden. People in our community are the polar opposite, and for people to vote for Obama based on his ability to give out “tzedakah” smacks of a sophomoric and small minded view of how the government magically gives out HUD, welfare, Medicaid, etc.
Hashkafically, I think the issue is much more serious. Obama supports both toieva marriage and abortions, both of which are non negotiable issues for frum Jews. Is there a rov or rosh yeshiva in this country (who identifies themselves as ultra-Orthodox) who would endorse such a self-centered and anti-Torah vote as “I want to keep my benefits”? Of course not. Those who made that calculation in their voting simply didn’t ask.
Thomas Jefferson once said that the country would go downhill as soon as the people realize that they can vote themselves money. How shameful that you sold out your religious beliefs for some WIC or HUD. Next time, vote with your mind, not with your wallet.